Notes from Santorini

I read the news today o boy: Greece’s “jobless rate for people ages 16 to 24… is 48 percent”; and on Monday “After violent protests left dozens of buildings aflame in Athens, the Greek Parliament voted early on Monday to approve a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by the country’s foreign lenders in exchange for new loans to keep Greece from defaulting on its debt.”

Honestly, I wasn’t planning on posting again this week on the Boutari blog.

It seemed like it would be in bad taste to post about things as frivolous as wine and winemaking when our sisters and brothers in Greece are facing some of the hardest times since the end of the of the second world war.

But then, this morning, I received the following, simple however deeply moving message from Santorini…

    Location: Santorini Megalochori
    Date: 2/16/2012, early morning

    The sun is rising, the sky is taking a marine blue color and the vine is still sleeping.

    The vine grower has already removed the unavailing branches. Now remains the time that vine grower will come and weave the young branches into a shape of basket.

    Petros Vamvakousis
    Winery Manager

They’ve been growing grapes using bush/basket training on Santorini since the Middle Ages and beyond. And come what may, the vine grower will come and weave the young branches into a shape of basket.

I love the wines that they grow on Santorini and thank goodness for them.

Click here for the Boutari blog.

Lunch and swimming in Perivolos, Santorini

Great swimming in the Aegean and fantastic lunch at Notos in Perivolos, on the south shore of Santorini (hence the name Notos, south), with Stavros (Santorini sales manager), Petros (vineyard manager), and Marina (owner) of Boutari. Fascinating conversation ranged from Sophocles to the Venetian rule of Santorini, from the origins of the name Santorini to the relationship of Italian Vin Santo and Santorini’s Vinsanto.

Too much to relate now and so I’ll let the images tell the story. But one wonderful moment I cannot refrain from retelling.

At one point, Marina asked me about my relationship with Italy and what I studied there. I answered, “I studied philology” and was about to begin my spiel about what philology is (since most people in the U.S. aren’t familiar with this field of study). But then it dawned on me: I was speaking with Greeks and they know exactly what philology is because its name is Greek… ϕιλο (philo) λόγος (logos)… love of words. When, instead of explaining its meaning, I shared my thrill at speaking with fellow lovers of words, we raised a glass of Assyrtiko in celebration… :)

Here’s what we ate (the first photo is of bourekakia, btw).

BREAKTHROUGH in my Vinsanto vs Vin Santo research!

Above: During my graduate years, I spent many hours at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice working on my dissertation on Petrarch and Bembo and early transcriptions of Petrarch Italian poems.

Between the two working legs of my recent trip to Italy, I had just two days free over a weekend, when I could do whatever I wanted to do. What did I do? I went to a library, of course! And not just any library: I spent a truly sinful and decadently fulfilling morning of quiet study in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice (that’s the entrance above), one of my favorite places in the world (where I conducted much of my research for my doctoral thesis back in the day).

In all honesty, I didn’t find what I was looking for that day but I did find a few clues that led me to what I believe is definitive proof that the Greek wine Vinsanto gets its name not from the Vin Santo of Italy but rather from the toponym Santorini, the island where it is made. (Here’s the link to my original post on the origins of the two enonyms.)

Above: My beloved Petrarch (1304-1374, subject of my doctoral thesis) bequeathed his library to the Biblioteca Marciana (named after the patron saint of Venice, St. Mark). A bust of Petrarch surveys the main reading room.

My research that day led me to the discovery of a fascinating 19th-century journal entitled, New Remedies, an illustrated monthly trade journal of Materia Medica, Pharmacy and Therpeutics (New York, William Wood, 1880).

In it (volume 9, page 6), I found the following passage (boldface mine):

    Greek Wines.

    Greece, and particularly the islands of the Archipelago, produce a great variety of excellent wines, which have lately attracted the attention of eminent therapeutists in Europe. The most favored island is Santorino, the ancient Thera or Kalliste, being the most southern island of the group of the Cyclades, and belonging to Greece. A variety of wines are produced there, both red and white. The best red wine is called Santorin (or Santo, Vino di Baccho), representing a dry fine-tasting claret, with an approach to port. Another fine (white) wine is called Vino di Notte (night wine). There are two varieties of this, one named Kalliste, being stronger and richer; the other, called Elia, somewhat weaker, but both possessing a fine bouquet and equal to the best French wines, particularly for table use. The “king” of Greek wines, however, is the Vino santo, likewise produced in Santorino, occurring in two varieties: dark-red and amber colored. This wine is sweet, rich, very dry, and has a strong stimulating aroma.

Note how the author (Xaver Landerer, a professor of botany at Athens) refers to a wine called “Santo” and he refers to the island as “Santorino” (and not Santorini). Note also how he calls the sweet wine “Vino Santo” and not Vinsanto or Vin Santo (where the o of vino has been naturally elided by the inherent system of Italian prosody).

Together with the above document, I found numerous others from the same era that refer to a “Vino Santo” or “Santo” from “Santorino,” the common name for Santorini in the late 19th century.

I also discovered the following information, which I have translated from the Italian, from the “Summary of previously unreported statistics from the Island of Santorino, sent to the Royal Academy of Science of Turin by Count Giuseppe de Cigalla,” published in the Memorie della Reale Accademia delle Scienze di Torino (proceedings of the Royal Academy of Turin, serie 2, tomo 7, Torino, Stamperia Reale, 1845).

    Vineyards produce the [island’s] principal crops, with more than 50 varieties of known vine types. [68]

    [In 1841 Santorini produced] Vino santo 2,350 barrels, 1,922 hectoliters, value 63,168 Italian lire [68]

    The only product exported from Santorino worth mention is wine. The quanity exported in 73,120 barrels (59,797 hectoliters) was nearly in 1841 but it generally does not exceed on average 45-50,000 barrels per year (from 36 to 40 thousand hectoliters), correspondent to the amount of consumed in Russia. [70]

Evidently, Vinsanto from Santorini was widely popular in Russia, where it was consumed as a tonic (I found other texts that spoke of the wine’s popularity in Russia).

Above: My good friend and college roommate Steve Muench accompanied me that day and took this photo. A good Texan cowboy hat comes in handy in the Venetian rain!

Why do I do this? And why do I travel to Venice from Padua on a rainy Saturday morning only to spend 3 hours inside a library? As my friend Andy P likes to say, I am a self-proclaimed lover of Italian wine and a moonlighting Italian wine historiographer.

Even better news (for Italian wine geeks out there): I have also discovered what may be the earliest document (early 1700s) to make reference to Italian Vin Santo and the process employed to produce it. Ultimately, I believe that Vin Santo has its origins in the Veneto rather than Tuscany and you’ll see why when I post my findings later this week…

If you made this far into the post, thanks for reading! Stay tuned…

Two favorite white wines for summer (and the ultimate sushi wine?)

Above: Tracie P and I have been enjoying a lot of my number-two white wine of the summer of 2010, the Clos Roche Blanche 2008 Sauvignon Blanche No. 2 (does anyone know why it’s called “numéro 2”?).

Chez Parzen, we’ve been enjoying a lot of great wine this summer but two white wines have really stood out. And when I say “favorite white wines for summer,” I mean wines that we keep coming back to over and over again.

Alice first turned me on to the wines of Clos Roche Blanche five years ago in NYC and I was immediately hooked on Cot.

BrooklynGuy is also a fan of the Sauvignon Blanc: check out this tough-love post he did last year around this time.

Here in Texas, we’re still drinking the 2008 and it’s showing great, so fresh, such pure white fruit (pear and apple) in it, great acidity, low alcohol, and under $20 at The Austin Wine Merchant. Summer time means a lot of salad and canned tuna in olive oil, pasta al pomodoro, and fresh cheeses. I just love drinking this wine, as we did last night, with tomato sauce.

Just looking at the color, above, makes me wanna slurp it up!

Above: The 2008 Santorini from Boutari, made from 100% Assyrtiko grapes, has a slightly oxidative thing going on. I think the gods made this wine just for me and Tracie P.

Anyone who’s been following Do Bianchi this year knows that I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the wines of Santorini. (Check out the thread here.)

I was hired this year to create content for the Boutari Social Media Project and one of the best things about the gig is how much great wine I’ve got to try for the first time: I’ve been loving Santorini by Sigalas and Gaia (both available in this country but not yet in Texas, although Sigalas is coming). But the wine Tracie P and I keep coming back to over and over again is the Boutari 2008 Santorini (also available for under $20 at The Austin Wine Merchant).

Tracie P put it best when she said it’s so mineral that “it’s like drinking seawater.” It’s salty and has a rich mouthfeel, a grainy texture that I can’t get enough of, the alcohol is well balanced in the wine, and it has that slightly oxidative note that we dig (and might even have aphrodisiacal properties where familiar matters are concerned).

Boutari’s Santorini and Santorini in general may very well be the perfect sushi wine. Remember when Aldo paired Gaia Santorini Thalassitis with raw sea urchin for me at Le Bernardin?

Santorini is such a fascinating appellation: drastically difficult grape-growing conditions, all pre-phylloxera rootstock (because the little bugs can’t jump from one Santorini’s tiny grains of volcanic sand to another), vines 80-100 years old, the whole connection to Venice and Venetian merchants in the Renaissance. Santorini, when it’s good, is just one of those wines that thrills and surprises me, stimulates my intellect, and transports me to another place.

Isn’t that what great wines are all about?

I hope everyone’s having a great summer with something great in your glass! Thanks for reading…

Better than the Da Vinci Code: more Santorini sleuthing!

Posting in a hurry today but just had to get this up on the blog. After I posted the other day debunking the myth that Italian Vin Santo and Greek Vinsanto are related in any other way beyond a homonymical coincidence, the chief enologist at Boutari (whose social media project is managed by me), Yannis Voyatzis, express-mailed me a wonderful volume on the wines of Santorini, which (literally) just arrived. In it, I found this wonderful reproduction of a map, printed in 1576 by a Venetian printer. As you can see above and in the detail below, in late 16th-century Venice, the Venetian name of the island Santorini was already well-established.

But more importantly, you can see that the name Santo Erini was still prevalent.

I believe that this supports my theory that the Greek appellation name Vinsanto comes from Vin[o di] Santo[erini].

I’ll have a great deal to say about this in an upcoming post. Early Venetian printing was one of the subjects of my doctoral thesis and I think I’ll have some interesting insights for the philologically inclined among us.

I’m super slammed with work today but just had to share this find asap.

Is this better than the Da Vinci Code OR WHAT???!!!! :-)

Debunking the [Greek] Vinsanto and [Italian] Vin Santo myth

Map thanks to the Wiki.

Ok, so since I began working on the Boutari Social Media Project, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Greek wine and trolling the internets for Greek wine tidbits. In the light of this and the fact that I am a self-proclaimed lover of Italian wine and a moonlighting Italian wine historiographer, I feel compelled today to address the forgivable yet undeniably erroneous assumption that the grand traditions of Vin Santo in Italy and Vinsanto in Santorini (Greece) are related in any other way than the homonymical resemblance of their respective designations.

In other words, I’m here today to tell you that the Italian wine is called Vin Santo and the Greek wine is called Vinsanto but the wines are highly distinct from one another in style and substance and history and their relation is purely linguistic. The names sound similar (and there’s a reason for that) but it has nothing to do with the wines themselves, ok?

Exhibit A is the map above. By 1450 The Most Serene Republic of Venice controlled areas highlighted in bright green in what is now modern-day Greece. (I could go on for hours on the Venetian control of Greece and its cultural implications at the time but that’s besides the point.)

Exhibit B is the name of the island of Santorini. The Venetians gave it this name when they controlled the island and its trade during the Renaissance and beyond. The toponym arises from a corruption of the expression agia eirini, ultimately Santa Irene, and subsequently Santorini in the parlance of the Venetian merchants of that era (up until when the Sultan came knocking again, but that’s another story).

(Nota bene: I could find no philologically credible source that pointed to xantos as the origin of the island’s name [as per the Bessarione myth]. All reliable sources point to a [pseudo] Santa Irene as the origin of the Venetians’s name and the contemporary name [Σαντορίνη in contemporary Greek] for the island.)

Above: In a politically aligned marriage that helped the Republic of Venice to secure trade routes in Greece, Venetian noblewoman Caterina Cornaro reigned as the queen of Cyprus in the late 15th century. Photo via

The most likely explanation for the confusion is that Venetian merchants and perhaps their customers once called the wines they found on Santorini (as the island of Thera was known then and is known today) Vinsanto, an abbreviation of vin[o] santo[rini] (Italian readers of my blog will immediately recognize the important role that the term santo plays in the Venetians’s weakness for blasphemy and related wordplay [paranomasia]).

I don’t have time to document properly the sources I’ve consulted today and I can only beg your patience to trust that I’ve done the legwork (and I have, btw).

I will close today’s post, written in haste, with a passage from the inimitable Kostantinos Lazarakis’s The Wines of Greece (Mitchell Beazley Classic Wine Library series):

    It is difficult to compare vinsanto with Tuscany’s vin santo, especially since the latter can vary from fino sherry-like dryness to highly oxidized sweetness. Most of the volatility in vin santo comes from the barrel-ageing, while vinsanto develops it mainly through sun-drying. Vin santo is dried in the shade, more gently, but for longer. (p. 381)

In fact, the Vinsanto of Santorini is made from Assyrtico and Aidani grapes that “are left on the vine to reach high levels of ripeness… After drying, the grapes are crushed and fermented, mostly on their skins.” Vin Santo from Tuscany, the Veneto, and Trentino is made from grapes dried on mats in the attic of a farmhouse. (There are a number of other elements that make Vin Santo different: the Easter week vinficiation tradition — after the wines have dried slowly on the mats over the winter — and the use of a mother yeast culled from previously used aging cask, for example.)

And I’ll also share the following passage, a little nugget I found in my research, translated slavishly (by me), from the Dizionario del dialetto veneto [Dictionary of Venetian Dialect], compiled by Giuseppe Boerio and published by Giuseppe Cecchini in Venice in 1867, p. 527.

    Vin santo, noi chiamiamo quel vino, che in qualche luogo dello Stato ex Veneto si fa la settimana santa coll’uva appassita, ed è un eccellente liquore che chiamasi Vino santo per esser appunto fatto ne’ giorni prossimi alla Santa Pasqua.

    Vin santo [is what] we call the wine, which, in certain places of the Ex-Veneto State, is produced during Holy Week with dried grapes. And it is an excellent liquor that is called Vin santo for the very fact that it is made during the days close to Holy Easter.

This is the first credible source I’ve found so far where the name of the Italian wine is attributed to the tradition of vinification during Holy Week.

I’ll provide all the footnotes for wine geeks and the philologically inclined, I promise, soon! One lazy Sunday afternoon when Tracie P is busy in the kitchen. Thanks for reading!

Awesome vertical of Santorini by Boutari

Tracie P and I tasted a vertical (09 classic Kallisti, 09 classic Santorini, 05 Kallisti reserve, 93 Kallisti reserve, 89 Kallisti reserve) of Boutari Santorini this morning with winemaker Yannis Voyatzis (who made all of the wines himself). The 2005 and 1993 in particular blew me away with their freshness and bright acidity and salty minerality. Managing the Boutari social media project does have its perks! Killer wines. I’m beginning to think that I may have finally found the perfect sushi wine.

Lunch at Bar Boulud wasn’t bad (photo by Tracie P).

Especially when paired with…

The 1993 Naoussa was friggin’ amazing…

Tracie P and I are getting ready for our Friday night out on the town. Stay tuned!